Emilia Clarke on Daenerys’ arc in Game of Thrones
*The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones. If you’re not caught up all the way through the finale, read no more.*
Now that Game of Thrones has finally ended, there will be much rumination on what the show meant. To those of us (and we are legion, of course) who watched every episode and spent as much time, if not more, debating the series various merits, deficits, and many, many plot twists, it’s safe to say the arc of Daenerys Targaryen will rank as the most debated facet of all. Yet one person whose opinion really matters—Emilia Clarke—has revealed her feelings on the life and death of the character that made her famous.
In last night’s series finale “The Iron Throne,” Dany’s reign as the Mad Queen was over as quickly as the journey towards this goal was arduous and long. She was stabbed in the heart—yes, literally and figuratively—by her putative lover (and nephew) Jon Snow. While this outcome was not entirely surprising, it was still heartbreaking. We’d been following Dany’s journey, one of Game of Thrones central narratives, since the very beginning. Her turn into the Mad Queen in “The Bells” was likely the point of no return for many GoT watchers. She broke bad, so bad, in fact, that even all the bread crumbs about her family’s history with madness, most crucially her own father’s desire to burn his own people, couldn’t prepare us for what it would look and feel like if and when Dany went mad.
Speaking to the New Yorker‘s Sarah Larson, Clarke discussed how she wanted to craft her performance so that audiences weren’t left with only the impression of Dany as the Mad Queen.
“I wanted to play a game with what the scene was about. It’s not that I wanted to show her as ‘mad,’ because I really don’t like that word. I don’t enjoy fans calling me ‘the Mad Queen.’ But she is so far gone in grief, in trauma, and in pain. And yet our brains are fascinating in the way that they find a fast route to feel O.K., whether you’re relying on a substance or you’re mildly deluded…if you see abuse in someone young, they often are able to mentally leave the room. I wanted Daenerys to be there. I wanted to show her as we saw her in the beginning: young, naïve, childlike, open, and full of love and hope. I wanted so much for that to be the last memory of her.”
As we wrote earlier today, Clarke’s performance this season has been remarkable. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, she talked what likely has been weighing on her ever since she read the scripts for season 8. It turns out that, very much like the rest of us, Clarke had a feeling Dany wasn’t going to make it through the series alive:
“I thought she was going to die. I feel very taken care of as a character in that sense. It’s a very beautiful and touching ending. Hopefully, what you’ll see in that last moment as she’s dying is: There’s the vulnerability — there’s the little girl you met in season 1. See? She’s right there. And now, she’s not there anymore…”
Even though Clarke had a feeling Dany might not make it out, it was still understandably emotional reading her final scene between her and Jon.
“I cried. And I went for a walk. I walked out of the house and took my keys and phone and walked back with blisters on my feet. I didn’t come back for five hours. I’m like, ‘How am I going to do this?’”
She did it. Clarke’s performance in the finale was one of the best parts of the show, and she managed to absolutely sell the panting rage and final break that led Dany to torch King’s Landing in “The Bells.” Say what you want about Daenerys Targaryen’s character arc, but there’s no question Emilia Clarke lived up to any and all expectations.
Featured image: Season 8, episode 6/series finale (debut 5/19/19): Emilia Clarke. Photo: Courtesy of HBO